More students eat lunch and breakfast at schools where number of ‘food vulnerable’ students qualifies all for free meals

Students eat breakfast (U.S. Department of Agriculture photo)

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

A program that offers free meals to all students using federal money has increased lunch and breakfast participation at many schools in Kentucky, but may come under renewed threat in Congress.

The Community Eligibility Program, part of the 2010 Hunger-Free Kids Act, allows schools with more than 40 percent of students qualifying as “food-vulnerable” to offer free meals to every student.

The latest schools to report that the program has more students eating breakfast and lunch are Glasgow High School and the Berea Independent Schools.

Glasgow has seen a 5 percent increase in lunch participation and a 13 percent increase in breakfast participation since December 2015, Jackson French reports for the Bowling Green Daily News.

Before the school joined the Community Eligibility Program, it would provide meals to any student who wanted them even if they couldn’t pay on that day, but would place a charge for the meal on the student’s account to be paid later.

Principal Keith Hale told French that the program reduces financial burdens on families who struggle to pay for food and also allows students to eat healthier, because healthier foods are often costlier.

This is also the first school year that the Berea schools have participated in the program, Ricki Barker reports for the Richmond Register.

“We are serving approximately 60 more breakfasts and 80 more lunches a day compared to last year,” Supt. Mike Hogg told board members at their January meeting. He added that the school is serving about 1,000 more additional meals to students than they have in the past.

“If you are hungry, then you are not at your optimal learning potential,” Hogg said. “With the program we can feed more students and we know that those students are fed and ready to learn each day.”

This program is one that could be altered in the new Congress by Republicans who have long had issues with the 2010 law, the centerpiece of Michelle Obama’s eight years as first lady.

Kentucky Health News reported in May that House Republicans had introduced a bill to raise the program’s qualifying threshold to 60 percent. The bill passed out of committee but died for lack of action.

According to the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the change could affect more than 350 Kentucky schools, because only 441 of the 804 schools currently eligible for the program would qualify under the 60 percent guideline.

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